Pregnant fast-food employee suspended for lost name tag wins back wages in company boycott

Elise Solé
Burgerville, a West Coast restaurant chain, is offering back pay to disciplined employees. The workers say they were punished for unionizing. (Photo: Getty Images)

A burger chain restaurant offered unionized employees back pay after some were disciplined for minor slip-ups like lost nametags.

Morrisha Jones, a 23-year-old cook who is 8-months pregnant with her first child, has worked at Burgerville near the Convention Center in Portland, Oregon for three years. In January, Jones and her coworkers formed the Burgerville Workers Union (under the Industrial Workers of the World) to bargain for higher wages, affordable health insurance, and a fair work schedule. 

The chain operates in Oregon and the state of Washington. In January, Jones’ location became Oregon’s 7th to unionize — currently, three are officially recognized by the National Labor Relations Board and four, like Jones’ store, are voluntary.

When a new manager was hired in February, he allegedly disciplined Jones and her coworkers for small mistakes. “I was written up because my hat was crooked,” Jones tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I thought it was weird because I work in the kitchen, not on the floor with customers.”

On March 11th, 35 employees gave a letter to management asking for recognition as an unofficial union. Mark Medina, an organizer who oversaw the 2018 unionization of his 92nd Ave Burgerville restaurant and leads an ongoing company boycott, tells Yahoo Lifestyle the letter was ignored. “We gave Burgerville 48 hours to recognize us as a voluntary union but they chose not to, so we filed for official recognition,” he said.

An election to unionize Jones’ restaurant is scheduled on April 4th and 5th between the Burgerville Workers Union, the company, and a representative of the National Labor Relations Board.

But two days before Jones’ March 15th maternity leave, she broke another rule. “I forgot my nametag at home, so my manager gave me a new one,” Jones tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Then, he suspended me for two weeks. He said, ‘Just get your stuff and go home.’ It wound up being only two days because I was going on maternity leave anyway.”

Jones alleges her manager said that union workers will be treated harshly as “retaliation.” Labor attorney Mike Tedesco told the Willamette Week that imposing punishment on employees for unionizing is illegal. 

The Burgerville Workers Union claim Jones’ coworkers were also suspended or written up for missing an unassigned shift, not wearing non-slip shoes, wearing a nametag on a hat (versus a shirt), all under a “culture of fear” and “brutal working conditions and hateful management.”

The Burgerville Worker Union’s GoFundMe page in March raised more than $2,000 for Morrisha’s lost wages ($124 for two days of work). The union also filed charges with the National Labor Relations Board to restore Morrisha’s employment status. 

A representative of Burgerville tells Yahoo Lifestyle: “As a restaurant company, Burgerville has policies in place to create a safe and positive environment for both our crew and guests. After many ongoing conversations with employees at Burgerville Store No. 14, located at 1135 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., regarding their actions being out of alignment with our policies, last Wednesday eight employees chose not to adhere to these policies. We followed our set process and protocol for addressing their actions. In reviewing all the disciplinary measures, it is clear that the employee violations did occur.” 

“We did not intend for the actions to be anything other than following standard procedures,” said the company. “And, we understand that given the timing of the upcoming union elections, our actions may have created mistrust between the IWW/BVWU and Burgerville.  We are committed to rebuilding trust with them. We have rescinded all of the disciplinary actions and given the employees back-pay. We support our employees’ right to have a fair election overseen by the National Labor Relations Board in the upcoming weeks.”

Medina says Burgerville’s response is “a carefully crafted piece of nonsense.”

“The company deserves zero credit,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “They’re responding to negative press and community pressure. They should apologize to employees. It’s gross to treat a working mother this way.”

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